As with many local gatherings at this time of year, the 38th-annual Surry County Sonker Festival offered great old-time music, fellowship and a chance to enjoy an early fall day in a rustic setting.
But the real star of Saturday’s event at the 1799 Edwards-Franklin House was the sonkers themselves.
“Sonkers,” as most local folks know, are deep-dish fruit pies originating in olden times which are common to this region of the country. For all practical purposes, they just as easily could have been labeled “magnets,” judging by how the local delicacy drew hundreds to the festival on Haystack Road, sponsored by the Surry County Historical Society.
Folks begin lining up even before the 1 p.m. starting time of the event, as the local dessert awaited tantalizingly in trays to be served up by a bevy of volunteers and subsequently devoured. The line remained that way as the afternoon progressed.
“I mean, this is really special,” Lowgap resident Ted Holmes said after he had made his way through the line and forked down a nominal sum to produce his reward: a bulging bowl filled with a peach-flavored sonker. His wife Michele chose cherry, with sweet potato, blackberry and strawberry among the other flavors offered.
Holmes said he is attracted to sonkers for two reasons: “The way they look and the way they taste — the only thing that would make it better is a scoop of ice cream.”
While Ted and Michele Holmes live in nearby Lowgap, others attended the Surry County Sonker Festival from much farther away. A check of a sign-in sheet revealed attendees from such places as DeLand, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and many parts of North Carolina and Virginia.
“I saw one car with a Missouri tag,” said Dr. Annette Ayers, an official of the Surry County Historical Society, which stages a number of events each year at the Edwards-Franklin House.
Yet there is just something special about the one dedicated to sonkers, which are enjoying a spurt in popularity, according to Marion Venable of the historical group.
“It’s a phenomenon now,” Venable said of the dessert dish, while looking around to see nearly everyone in the crowded yard of the historic house eating one.
“Everybody seems to be having a good time and learning about sonkers, and that’s what I like.”
Venable added that she received a call from a professor at East Tennessee State University who wanted to learn about sonkers, and a similar inquiry from a reporter with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“And it’s happened within the last six months,” she added of the spike in interest.
Providing the sonkers is a high-volume affair, according to Ayers.
“We do about 60 trays,” she said, estimating that there are about 25 servings per tray, which totals around 1,500 servings.
Some of the eager customers were snatching up three or four sonkers at a time.
“They take them home,” Ayers explained.